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COBI, the future of biking takes routes in a whole new direction

Nowadays, there are numerous biking apps that can make your mobile phone integral to your bike ride. Using it for directions or music is obvious, but a good phone can also excel at tracking and managing e-bike systems. The trick is integrating your phone into the trip, rather than fumbling with it in a pocket. In addition, good bike mount keeps your phone visible but safe, and makes the riding experience safer and easier for you. COBI, short for COnnected BIking, is built by experienced engineers that love riding bikes, so they get it. The company is launching in 35 countries and has just begun to ship to consumers.

COBI is a connected biking system perfect for commuting, touring, and e-biking.  The core piece of hardware is a smart cellphone mount with a built-in portable charger powerful enough to top off an iPhone about four times. There’s an integrated automatic front light and an optional rear light that functions as both turn signal and accelerometer-controlled brake. With this, the COBI app covers just about everything: routes with turn-by-turn, music, weather, basic theft protection, and e-bike systems dashboard to start, all suited to bikes and biking.

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Scott Kaier, COBI’s rep told Digital Trends, “What [COBI] has done is enhance the cycling experience by providing similar connectivity to what you would find in a modern automobile. Pace through a playlist, make phone calls, get navigation, you can now do that on your bicycle thanks to COBI.”

Andreas Freitag, COBI’s CMO explained his team approached development from a different angle. “We developed user experiences and digital connectivity experiences for Audi and other German automakers. We’re user experience designers,” Freitag said. But they are also cyclists. They wanted a convenient all-in-one product without reinventing the wheel.

Kaier pointed out there was no reason to build a device with a screen when you already have one. “Plug your smartphone in and use that as the interface.” Phones up to six inches snap securely into the mount using a waterproof case that comes with COBI. The mount itself fits the center most bar-stem setups, and a road bike-specific mount is on the company’s to-do list. This keeps the app in easy view (for emergencies, keep your eyes on the road!) and your phone charged. If you prefer not to have your phone on your bars, COBI connects via Bluetooth so you can keep it tucked away.

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The COBI app is the interface, controlled via the obligatory handlebar remote. It lets users set a route, select a playlist, set up speed dial (no need to go through your contacts when riding and risk distraction), check the weather, and more. COBI acts as a hands free device, which allows for integration with programs (like Apple Playlist) that are usually closed to other apps. Freitag said, “It’s not about replacing other apps, it’s about improving them.” COBI company plans to integrate other apps over time, but for now all the apps you’d usually run can still play in the background. Integral ones like Spotify can be controlled by COBI, and other navigation apps could learn a thing or two.

The navigation feature is designed for cycling, as opposed to other apps that were designed for walking or driving and are slowly integrating biking. Google Maps, for example, will offer a few routes that vary based on time. COBI tackled routing a little differently, offering route variety by type rather than strictly by time. Enter your destination, and the COBI app will show the fastest, shortest, and quietest routes.

And no, shortest and fastest are not necessarily the same thing. For instance, “The shortest route could have a lot of stop signs,” Freitag said. As with a car, cyclists are supposed to stop at stop signs and red lights, which would translate to a slower ride than using a closed bike lane next to a highway. COBI uses Open Street Map data to choose route types.

But that’s not all; the routing also takes weather data sourced from AccuWeather into account. This is pivotal for longer trips — it would suck to head out for a bike tour without waterproof gear and end up drenched. “If you’re going on a two hour trip, you want to know what the weather is at the end of it,” Freitag said. COBI will show you when and where the rain (or snow, or impenetrable fog) will start along your route via a ride weather display — a nice feature this cyclist writer hasn’t seen handled so neatly before.

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The COBI hub charges via micro USB, and attaches to the bars with a specialized Allen bolt. The mount doesn’t lock to your bars with a proprietary key, but it is linked to your phone and won’t work without it. The industrious thief with the right key will find the device useless and unsellable. But, if you set the device to alert you when jiggled, there’s the possibility of catching a thief red-handed. Keep in mind, COBI is not a security device, but it should help bikers feel more secure.

Those with e-bikes get all this plus drive and battery integration, which means riders can view and control their bike status from their phone. In that case, the drive could be disabled in the case of theft.

Other apps, like Strava, simply run in the background. The COBI app also functions as a basic bike computer, tracking mileage and speed. “The beautiful thing about this whole approach, it’s all app based, so you get new features all the time, and you don’t have to buy a new device,” Freistag said. “It’s basically just getting better all the time.”

COBI began as one of the most successful bike projects on Kickstarter with options as low as $115, and is now shipping to continental Europe. Hop on COBI’s website to join the mailing list.